Monday, August 27, 2012

On the Failed Job Creation Front, Obama Has Completely Run Out of Ideas

Unemployment is the millstone around President Obama’s neck in the 2012 election campaign. Attentive voters understand he is offering excuses — a worse-than-expected economy, financial crises requiring longer recoveries, bad luck of tsunamis, droughts, and the Euro — not solutions. Obama cannot deliver solutions because a real jobs program contradicts his core principles, alienates his base, and infuriates his crony contributors. He can only promise more of the failed policies –stimulus and tinkering — of his first three and a half years
Obama’s last foray into job creation was his American Jobs Act (AJA) submitted to Congress on September 12, 2011.  Labeled “Stimulus 2” by its critics, Obama’s shopworn list of remedies, promised to “put more people back to work and put more money in the pockets of working Americans….without adding a dime to the deficit.” The AJA’s temporary tax credits to businesses that hire, extension of the payroll tax holiday, and more money for teachers and infrastructure stalled in both Houses and had to be taken up piecemeal.  The payroll tax holiday extension passed Congress. Small businesses decided his tax credits for hiring were not worth the trouble.

A deafening silence followed.  Obama’s vaunted Jobs Task Force has not met for more than a half year. Obama is out of ideas. He can only offer excuses, criticize those offering new solutions, and divert attention from the worst recovery in history with chatter about the rich not paying their fair share and his opponent’s tax returns.

One year ago, on the eve of the President’s jobs address, I wrote Why Obama Cannot Support a Real Jobs Program.  In this piece, I showed what a real jobs program looks like and how it largely would have increased jobs, to use Obama’s AJA message, “without adding a dime to the deficit.” Here is the substance of what I wrote then as advice to the President:

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

New Business for American Trial Lawyers: Sue For Hurt Feelings

Nine Russian activists are suing Madonna for millions. They were offended by her support of  homosexual rights  during a concert in Petersburg. A February Petersburg law makes it illegal “to promote homosexuality to minors” and reportedly there were children as young as nine at the Madonna concert. They are demanding $10.5 million in damages.

Madonna is not the only one. Three residents of Novosibirsk are suing the jailed Pussy Riot Punk Rock girls for 30,000 rubles  (about a thousand dollars) for hurt feelings caused by the punk rockers behavior in a Moscow cathedral.

U. S. lawyers: get on a plane to Russia. Maybe you can learn how to sue for hurt feelings in the United States where big bucks are at stake.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Storm Clouds Ahead for Putin as He Takes on McCartney, Madonna and the LGBT Community

Virtually the whole world now knows that three girls wearing colorful mini-skirts, tights and masks were arrested in a Moscow cathedral for performing a punk prayer: “Holy Virgin: Drive Putin Out.” After a half year in jail, undernourished and sleep-deprived, the three Pussy Riot feminist punk band girls were sentenced to two years in jail for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”  The judge refused to allow testimony that their’s  was a political act aimed at Putin and the corrupt head of the orthodox church, Patriarch Kirill (widely known to have been a KGB agent during the Soviet era). The girls maintained they acted against Putin and Kirill, not against the church.

A new term is now ensconced in the Russian vocabulary – “khamsud”. Both the Pussy Riot and oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky trials were held in Moscow’s Khamovnichesky Court.  Khamsud, roughly translated, is a court run by dishonest judges and prosecutors.

The harsh sentence to two years in a labor colony shook the world diplomatic and artistic communities, but prison terms are an integral part of Putin’s strategy of  attacking “low hanging fruit” to show  that dissent will not be tolerated. Putin sentenced  Khodorkovsky, not once but twice, in  “khamsud.” Other oligarchs were silenced or fled the country. But Khodorkovsky was one of those crooked oligarchs, people concluded and paid no attention. Similarly, Putin calculates that few Russians will care about bizarre punk rockers, whose short skirts revealed their rears as they genuflected on the church altar.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

An Open Letter to Vladimir Putin on Pussy Riot: Gregory Kataev (film and theatric director, Moscow)

Dear Paul,
I recently returned from France where my sister organized a musical festival.  An excellent group of international musicians and students from the French conservatories participated, with each concert being an event unto itself.  People from all over the globe were in attendance – friends, acquaintances, and strangers.

I was inundated by questions about why the girls from Pussy Riot were in prison.  A high ranking diplomat told me bluntly if the girls had danced on the altar of Notre Dame they would be sentenced to a fine or, barring payment, a week of public service.  It would never have occurred to anyone that girls who caused no physical harm or material damage to the church could be in prison.  Their punishment is purely political, he declared.

Others were equally incredulous:  A Belgian burst out:  “What is your court doing?  Not everyone approves of what they did, but the legal process produces nothing but a feeling of disgust!  The whole world is indignant about this inquisition, and the names “Nadia-Masha-Katya” now are symbols of political repression.”  An American complained to me:  “I admire Russian literature, music and the churches.  But the shameful stories about the Patriarch’s 40 thousand dollars Breguette watches and his self-serving apartment law suit case and the shameful trial of Pussy Riot have caused a general loathing of Russia around the world.  More and more people view Russia as a totalitarian, abnormal state with a medieval mentality.  Who can give credence to Putin’s ludicrous statements about democracy, rule of law, and the creation of favorable social and business climate?”

What could I possibly answer as someone who loves his country but completely shares this outrage?

Pussy Riot adds to the too many Russian trials over the last few years that have caused terrifying reputational damage to Russia.  No real or imagined CIA campaign could cause such psychological or ideological harm to the Russian image as this trial. The Patriarch’s silence is shameful.  The cowardly, Pontius-Pilate  Putin’s position, when he washes his hands of the case demonstrating that he has nothing to do with the show trial,  evokes even more international shame.  Civilized countries cannot remain indifferent to such abuses.

A friend invited two wives of Russian billionaires to the music festival.  At the end of the second day, during the final part of the concert, two young women entered the packed concert hall after ***knocking on the door.  They were met with scathing glances and they remained standing near the door, their expressions assured, if not haughty.  I found myself near them, and couldn’t resist asking if they were Russian.  They both proudly responded yes, but obviously took offense at the question.  I took note of their magnificently varnished nails and expensive clothes.

 After the performance, I told my friend not to bother introducing me to the two young women. I didn’t like them and didn’t want to meet them.  Regardless, after 15 minutes of subtle maneuvers through the crowd, my friend tapped my shoulder and introduced them.  They announced that they were both Natashas (or Svetas - I forgot) and that according to the Russian tradition I could stand between them and make a wish.  I stood between them and said that I wished the girls of Pussy Riot to be freed!  Another young Russian woman in their entourage exclaimed, “But why should they be released?!”  As I was trying to explain my position, she shook her head and covered her face with her hands, once again loudly exclaiming, “No, there was a cross, it was a sacred place, you can’t do such things there!  They are criminals and should be judged as such!”  The billionaires’ wives nodded agreement while smiling at me at the same time.  Their friend and I continued to argue, attracting distasteful glances from those who heard what was going on. After I slipped away, a vacuum formed around the billionaire’s wives’ group, and they quickly disappeared.

After returning to Moscow, I now suspect that too many Russians share the views of  the tackily but expensively adorned billionaires’ wives.  I read the comment sections of the press on Pussy Riot, and I see Russia itself.  These are not Europeans or Americans commenting, but Russians, with an almost childlike or fairy tale interpretation of the controversy, expressed primitively and agressivly.  Any intelligent discussion elicits vicious responses and these opinions continue to safely hover on the internet.  They cannot merely be explained away as nonsense and political naiveté. The only explanation I can come up with is the indulgence of the Russian intelligence services. The same story with the numerous illegal surveillance recordings of the Russian opposition on the internet. 

In any country that respects its own laws the publication of private information gathered illegally on regime opponents would cause a hurricane of indignation in the media, followed by criminal trials of  those responsible.  But in Russia, only starkly unjust criminal trials are initiated against  the political opposition and now the innocent girls of Pussy Riot.  But the outside world perfectly understands what is going on.  And morning, as the Russian song says, will eventually come.

Mr. Putin, you should pay attention to what the international community is saying - the words and deeds (or lack thereof) of  the church make it clear that Patriarch Kirill is your  puppet (or at least trying to be one).  Either you are not a very smart person, Mr. Putin, or it is your advisors (which does not preclude the first option). People are discussing this in every corner of the world… Paris, Orleans, Lyon, London, Edinburgh, Rome, Florence, Venice, Brussels, Antwerp, Amsterdam, the Hague, Washington, New York and most importantly…in Moscow.  And I, and the millions of others who love Russia and her culture, are terrified by the Pussy Riot process, along with the other unjust and shameful legal situations in Russia.  I urge you to speak in support of the girls from Pussy Riot, Mr. Putin.

Imagine how your prestige and authority (and that of the Russian Orthodox Church) would rise if you (or Patriarch Kirill) publicly denounce the charges against Pussy Riot.  The group acted in bad taste and offended parishioners, but they did not cause harm to any people or icons. These girls, whatever they are -  our children, we forgive them; we love them and would like to meet with them in order to explain something.  Imagine the shattering impression this would make on people around the world.  This would be similar to Pope John Paul II meeting with the Turk who had shot him in order to forgive him.  This was the event of the year, but I don’t urge you in order to follow a Roman Pope.  I urge you to switch on your mind (and your heart, if it still switches on) for the glory of Christianity,  the glory of the historical confessors of Orthodoxy - in the glory of Russia.

If you cannot do this, the impression will be justified that you have no spiritual  values and that  the president of Russia has only his own self-serving calculations and political interests at heart.  But, it seems to me that you will say nothing.  And it seems that you will craftily continue to refer Pussy Riot  back to the Russian Courts and await  “ their” decision.  You are crafty because this was the same position you took during the Khodorkovsky trials while at the same time you unsubstantially accused him of being up to his elbows in blood and applied pressure to the courts.  This is unfair and illegal.  And while you are the Egyptian Pharaoh of Russia you are beyond the law. 

But things can change. And I hope they will. And how will Russian history remember you?  Will you be remembered as the one who created self-destructing “vertical” of  power, primitive “manual control” and whose throne was propped up by the oil, gas and lumber that are the national resources of  the entire country?  Will you be also remembered as the one under whose name, with your consent, citizens were pursued, judged and sentenced as if Russian justice is  a medieval inquisition?  Just imagine what future school children and students will read about you in their textbooks in fifty years from now?  Or a hundred?  In your place, or that of Patriarch Kirill, I would feel fear and shame.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Paul McCartney and Mikhail Gorbachev Come Out in Support of Punk Rock Girls

In his interview with BBC, former president Mikhail Gorbachev stated:

"I firmly believe that all of this process is unnecessary nonsence of use to no one. This is not a case for the courts. It should be before the court of public opinion."

On his Facebook, Beatles' Paul McCartney writes:

Dear Nadya, Katya & Masha,

I’m writing to show my support for you at this difficult time. I would like you to know that I very much hope the Russian authorities would support the principle of free speech for all their citizens and not feel that they have to punish you for your protest. Many people in the civilized world are allowed to voice their opinions and as long as they do not hurt anyone in doing so I believe this is the best way forward for all societies. I hope you can stay strong and believe that I and many others like me who believe in free speech will do everything in our power to support you and the idea of artistic freedom.

Wishing you the very best of luck

So far, more than 2 million followers "like" the post and more than 100,000 are talking about it.

A major demonstration is scheduled before the courthouse tomorrow, when the Punk Rock Band members are expected to be handed down prison sentences.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pictures of Putin's Security Forces Breaking up a Demonstration

Here are pictures of Putin;s security forces breaking up a peaceful demonstration on the steps of Christ the Savior Cathedral:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why Chinese Companies Are Withdrawing from U.S. Stock Exchanges

Chinese companies are withdrawing their listings from U.S. stock exchanges. There is no real mystery: First, Chinese companies cannot (and do not wish to) meet U.S. accounting standards. They are largely state owned or directed. They usually operate on the basis of informal agreements and must hide corruption. Second, U.S. markets are driving down their share prices.  Their withdrawal from U.S. stock markets is supported by the Chinese government which is providing loans for that purpose.

Stock markets play the role of “price discovery.” They let investors decide what companies are worth. For example, the recent debacle of the Facebook IPO revealed that Facebook’s value was less than expected.

Chinese companies are withdrawing because stock-market investors have concluded that the companies of Chinese state capitalism are worth less than what had generally been expected. Once short sellers started investigating the goings-on in Chinese companies, their share prices plummeted.

Chinese authorities must withdraw their companies quickly from this price discovery process. If it continues, it will show that Chinese companies are overvalued once their true operating practices are known.

China cannot let its image of success and growth be tarnished.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Punk Rockers' Lawyers Seek to Prevent Seizure of Children by the State

The judge's verdict in the Pussy Riot case is expected to fall this Friday with prison sentences for the three defendants, accused of  "religious hatred."

The lawyers for the young women are seeking to prevent the seizure of the two young children of band members by state authorities and their transfer to foster homes designated by the state. The picture shows the courageous lawyers (who themselves face potential sanctions) with one of the children.

Putin is following Stalin's example. During his purges, the children of "enemies of the people" were placed in orphanages run by the secret police. They were guaranteed a life of indoctrination and deprivation. The practice of seizing children served as a deterrent for Stalin. It is not beneath Putin to rediscover this Stalinist tactic in  his campaign against dissidents.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Outsourcer-In-Chief: Obama Of General Motors

At a Colorado pep rally, President Obama praised his GM bailout as an example for American industry to follow.

“The American automobile industry has come roaring back…So now I want to say what we did with the auto industry, we can do it in manufacturing across America. Let’s make sure advanced, high-tech manufacturing jobs take root here, not in China. And that means supporting investment here. Governor Romney … invested in companies that were called ‘pioneers’ of outsourcing. I don’t want to outsource. I want to insource.” Applause!

According to Obama, GM does everything right. It offers high-paying jobs to American workers. It invests at home. GM put American manufacturing back in the high-tech race on American soil. The new GM is good for America, and America is good for GM, as a former GM chairman declared in 1953. GM is back where it should be.

We need to look no further than General Motors’ own figures to  learn that GM outsources almost two thirds of its jobs overseas. Less than one in five GM vehicles are manufactured in the United States.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Global Rock and Roll Community Must Step Up In Support of Pussy Riot: Or: Vladimir Can Beat Hillary and Barack but Not Madonna and Yoko

The Moscow prosecutor has demanded three years for the three members of the Pussy Riot feminist punk rock band. They have been in prison since March after performing a protest song in Christ the Savior Cathedral, appealing to the Virgin Mary to “throw Putin out.”

The prosecutor argues that only prison can “correct” the unpardonable crime of religious hatred of the accused.

The prosecutor charged that the girls “defamed centuries-old Russian orthodox traditions…They deeply insulted and demeaned the feelings of believers. The words that they shrieked out reviled God.”  The prosecutor asked the court to weigh “the degree of social danger of the crime” (Note: the exact same language was used during Stalin’s terror).  He cited as an aggravating factor that the “action of the girls was planned beforehand, they assigned each other roles, and they rehearsed.”

The prosecutor ruled out any political motives of the girls, stating that “not one name of a politician was pronounced in the cathedral.” (How about Putin?) The analysis of their song revealed “the clear artificiality of the expression included in the text: ‘Holy Virgin: Drive out Putin,’” which they added only to support the case that their action “was a protest against people of high authority.”

The court refused to hear the testimony of fourteen witnesses prepared to testify that the girls were making a political protest. The prosecutor asked the court to ignore any testimony that their actions were not motivated by “religious hatred.” The court experts were “sufficiently qualified. There is no reason to doubt them.”

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Another Media Gaffe: Romney in Israel

Mitt Romney has been skewered by the mainstream media for a statement about Israel and the Palestinian Authority that is accepted as true by top economic historians and anyone with a little common sense. Perhaps Romney should have known better than to make an intellectual point before reporters, whose attention span and education are in short supply, to say the least.

Romney began his to-be-skewered remarks in Jerusalem with a statement of fact:

“And as you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000, and you compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality.” (He overstated the Palestinian figure, pointed out one jubilant critic, but the point remains the same).

Romney’s “gaffe” was to use Harvard economic historian, David Landes’s The Wealth and Poverty of Nations to explain the differences in “economic vitality” between Israel and its Arab neighbors he saw with his own eyes:  

“If you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it’s this: culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference.”

The Press buzzed with excitement: Did Romney actually say that Israel is successful and the Palestinian Authority is not because of cultural differences?  What an insult! Such a racist and bigot is not fit to be President! What an opportunity to build on the narrative that Romney is gaffe prone!

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Update: Putin’s Pussy Riot Headache

Vladimir Putin unwillingly responded to reporters’ questions about Pussy Riot during his official visit to England. . When pressed by persistent reporters, he declared that he did not want really want to speak about this issue: “There is nothing good in this case. But I do not think it is necessary to judge them sternly for what they have done. I hope that they will draw their own conclusions about what they have done.”

In typical Putin fashion, Putin washed his hands of responsibility. It is up to the courts: “I hope the courts make the right decision. (This after the Khodorkovsky judge unwillingly announced the decision telephoned to him from above.). (Stalin also could do nothing to save his victims from the Soviet legal system. It was their decision not his!)

Putin went on to say that  Pussy Riot are lucky that they committed such a heinous crime in a civilized country like Russia: “I think that if the girls had committed such sacrilege in Israel – many of you know, there they have some pretty tough guys – they would not have gotten away. If this had happened in the Caucasus – you do not have to go very far -- and if they had insulted some Muslim practice, we could not have succeeded in protecting them.”

When asked whether he discussed Pussy Riot with Premier David Cameron: “No,  we did not mention it.”  

Back home, prominent members of the Russian Society of Advocates issued an open letter in support of  Pussy Riot. They wrote that criminal proceedings against the women contradicts Russian law and is a step towards the destruction of a rule of law in Russia.”

As we say: Putin has stepped into it. He had to parry questions about the imprisonment of a girl punk band on a state visit to a major country, and he has to face a rare bit of push back from his own legal profession, which appears to be embarrassed to work in a country with no laws. 

A question for Putin to consider: What would happen if one of the punk rock girls dies in prison?